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Airport visitors flying out of southern airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick can't board Dubai-bound planes quickly enough to sample the celebrity playground.

They go in search of all-year-round sun, sand and shopping - and the sands now hold even greater attraction for them. That's because Dubai has just taken a huge stride towards seaside ecotourism by joining the international Blue Flag program that guarantees conformity to stringent environmental standards. On the coast that contains some of Dubai's most stunning resorts, the Jumeriah and Mamzar beaches have just been certified to meet Blue Flag's international standards of water quality, safety and overall environmental management. Other beaches are awaiting the same certification.

Tourism in Dubai is rising healthily. Last year, the emirate welcomed 9.9 million international tourists, a 9% jump compared to 2011. Pascal Maigniez, head of its Department of Tourism, said Dubai's aim is to double the number of tourists by the end of the decade. They flock to giant shopping malls, such as the Al Ghurair Centre in Deira and the exclusive BurJaman Centre. On an equally lavish scale is the imposing Dubai skyline, which is dominated by the towering Burj Khalifa, at 828 metres (2,716ft) the world's tallest building.

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