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Protecting Mecca's pilgrims, Saudia introduces world's first hand-sanitizing prayer beads

Annual Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages draw millions of Muslims from across the globe to the holy city of Mecca. Those massive crowds of people create countless opportunities for pathogens to jump from one human to the next. To curb the spread of viruses and bacteria among the faithful, national airline Saudia has introduced ProtecTasbih, the world's first sanitizing prayer beads.

Recognizing the need for a hygiene product for pilgrims who may prefer to avoid anything containing alcohol, the airline's creative partners searched for an alternative. Their research brought them to tea tree oil, which combines antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Working on the project alongside Leo Burnett Saudi Arabia and Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai, Aetha Design found a way to mold a semi-solid tea tree compound around solid beads.

Getting the formulation right was challenging since the beads would be used both on planes and in other air-conditioned spaces, and in Saudi Arabia's unrelenting heat. Saudia presented ProtecTasbih to passengers aboard flights to Jeddah and also distributed them to worshippers in Mecca. No word yet on whether the prayer beads will see a wider rollout.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's an increased consumer emphasis on health and prevention, especially in crowded spaces and large gatherings like Hajj and Umrah. Which means products that enhance safety and hygiene are likely to be well-received. ProtecTasbih also demonstrates how innovation can improve age-old practices without altering their essence and cultural significance.

How could your brand (gently) endow traditional items with new functionalities, health-oriented or otherwise? And what about rethinking beloved cultural customs to reduce their environmental impact — like finding a sustainable alternative to the toxic plastic pollution created by Mardi Gras beads and making it the new norm?

Related: Bike helmet keeps Sikh kids safe without sacrificing religious custom

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