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 ever since.

Noel is CEO of The Noel Group, a collection of travel companies anchored by the insurance company he founded, Travel Guard International.

"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 business.

What else did the cruise line want to know, I asked.

"About SARS."

"And?"

"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, www.travelguard.com.

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 bookmark.

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 behavior).

Before putting a company on the list, Travel Guard will contact it and give it an opportunity to confirm or refute the forecaster's findings.

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 Classic Voyages.

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 Africa.

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 assembly.

"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.

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