KUALA LUMPUR - Dataran Merdeka came alive with bright lights, thumping music and energetic performers as tourists and locals celebrated the launch of Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014.
The historic square was transformed into a concert venue with a huge stage and a sizeable crowd had built up by 8pm despite a persistent drizzle.
Besides various exhibition booths and food stalls, which opened for business from 10am, the crowd was treated to performances by clowns, stiltwalkers, buskers and football freestylers.
The launching ceremony culminated in a dazzling display of fireworks, cultural performances and dances close to midnight.
Popular artistes included Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, Datuk Jamal Abdillah and Amy Search, while LimKokWing University students performed the VMY 2014 theme song.
In his speech, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz called on all Malaysians to join hands in unity to make VMY 2014 a great success.
He pointed to the ministry's "We are the Host" campaign, noting that the acronym HOST (Heart, Open, Smile, Together), formed the essence of being a great host by welcoming tourists with open arms and helping them bring home pleasant memories.
"In order to achieve our targets of attracting 28 million tourists and generating RM76bil tourist receipts in 2014, let us begin by welcoming the world with our open hearts and minds," he said.
He added that this year's theme, "Celebrating 1Malaysia, Truly Asia", was a reflection of the nation's rich cultural and heritage diversity, as well as its peace, stability and warm Malaysian hospitality.
Mohamed Nazri said the proboscis monkey, the official mascot, was chosen to raise awareness on the importance of wildlife and nature conservation.
"It will also serve to instill interest among tourists towards the gift of nature as a national tourism asset," he said.
Mohamed Nazri also said over 600 international tour packages, 1,001 domestic tour packages and over 200 major events had been prepared for Visit Malaysia 2014.
He said these included the Fabulous Food 1Malaysia, 1Malaysia GP Sale, 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival, Rainforest World Music Festival and Il Divo's "A Musical Affair" concert.
For sports lovers, Mohamed Nazri said they could enjoy events including the CIMB Golf Classic, Royal Langkawi International Regatta, Ironman Asia Pacific at Langkawi and Putrajaya, World Wrestling Entertainment, Petronas Malaysia Formula 1 Grand Prix and the inaugural FIA Formula e-Race.
He added that there was also an "endless parade" of cultural activities such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas Open Houses and Colours of 1Malaysia.
"From the depths of our magnificent seas and coasts to the heights of our mountain ranges, mega bio-diversities and 130-million-year-old rainforests, we have formulated something for everyone to enjoy, be it in our cities, towns or rural outskirts," he said.