pril 9. Before the war in Iraq had
even begun, John Noel gave that date to a major cruise line in
reply to its question, "When do you think the war will be over?"
He was off by one day, but it was close enough to get that
cruise line's attention, and it's been calling him for predictions
Noel is CEO of The Noel Group, a collection of travel companies
anchored by the insurance company he founded, Travel Guard
"I had actually come up with the date four days before
hostilities began and announced it at one of our employee
meetings," Noel told me just before addressing delegates at the
World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) Global Summit in
Vilamoura, Portugal. "It wasn't magic, just a case of sizing up the
U.S. military against Iraq's."
Noel prefers science -- with a bit of art thrown in -- to magic
as he looks to the future. Insurance companies, it might be noted,
had better be good at prognosticating if they want to stay in
What else did the cruise line want to know, I asked.
"It'll be under control in 60 days." This was on May 16, so the
date he's picking is July 15. "As an industry, we need to have a
plan ready to execute in 60 days."
You don't need Noel's private phone number to share his glimpses
into the future, but you do need the Travel Guard Web site address,
Click on Travel Guard Alert from the homepage and you'll
see a list of companies Travel Guard won't cover against financial
default, and the ones his company's policies won't cover under any
circumstance. It's a Web address everyone in the industry should
The list was developed as an early-warning system. Travel Guard
actuaries monitor travel suppliers using information from industry
analysts, public documents and retail travel agencies (which are
encouraged to contact the company if commission checks are late or
if there are other indications of irregular financial
Before putting a company on the list, Travel Guard will contact
it and give it an opportunity to confirm or refute the forecaster's
Travel Guard's record is pretty good -- among the companies that
made an appearance on the list were Renaissance Cruises, Midway
Airlines, Vanguard Airlines, Commodore Cruise Lines and American
Incidentally, once a company's on the list, it is possible to
get off -- US Airways is a recent case in point.
Noel wasn't in Vilamoura to talk about defaulting suppliers, war
or SARS. But he was there to talk about the future.
He and his wife, Patty, are hoping to change the lives of
orphans and "the orphaned" elderly affected by the AIDS pandemic in
In a keynote address, he made a dramatic appeal to delegates to
support the Nyumbani Village outside Nairobi, Kenya.
"When people die of AIDS, they often leave two generations
without support -- their children and their parents," Noel told the
"The idea of the village is to put these two generations
together in a self-sustaining community where children can be cared
for by their grandparents and grandparents can impart their values
and do meaningful work to provide for their grandchildren."
The Noels saw a bleak future, not only for the individuals
affected by AIDS in Africa, but for the world at large.
They saw the poverty and despair as a breeding ground for
terrorism and political instability.
And rather than merely being soothsayers, they decided to work
to change the future.
"We in the industry can make a difference in people's lives, and
strengthen our industry at the same time," Noel said. "But you need
to get involved."
To learn more about the Noels' efforts, visit www.noelgroup.com
and click on Philanthropic Vision, then Nyumbani Village.
And if you're thinking of getting involved to change the future,
please keep in mind there's no time like the present.