Cape Town – Imaginative stories start with a “what if” moment – a proposition that propels the viewer into the perspective of the hero of the story. This is true of movies, and, in many ways, this is paralleled in truly creative business ventures. Such is the case of the Cape Town International Film Market and Festival (CTIFMF) 2017.

From relatively humble beginnings in 2007 as the Cape Town and Winelands International Film Festival, the long-term vision of the event’s organisers has seen it grow an increasing reputation as the place to promote the film and television industry.

Every year the phrase “flock to Cannes” is used by the media to describe the mass migration of media specialists to the Cannes Film Festival. That’s a “what if” proposition for us in the Cape: what if our international profile on the film and television market could rival the very best, becoming the Cannes of Africa?

In generating global interest in a local event, we could see the benefits of the tourism that results being spread widely across the city, in the same way that it is through other large events and festivals. It takes a “Cannes-do” attitude!

This year’s CTIFM takes place from October12-21, and is all the more important as it’s headed by Rafiq Samsodien, a local from the Cape Flats who has not only had the honour of having produced an Oscar-nominated movie, he’s also immersed in the film industry where he works alongside some of the world’s best.

He’s gone on to champion the local film industry, and at every turn he’s proving to the world what we already believe: we’re capable and creative – asking those big “what if” questions and then using ingenuity and hard work to realise our dreams.

Staging a successful annual event isn’t easy; we can’t really say that an event grows like a snowball in our Cape context – a more effective metaphor would be to say that it is built brick by brick, year on year.

Success builds on success. Did the original organisers of what has now become the Cape Town International Jazz Festival ever believe that it would become the biggest event in the city’s calendar?

Perhaps that was their “what if” intention, it doesn’t really matter. Their hard work has translated to an event that attracts 34 000 festival attendees, generating a R553.4million economic injection into the local economy, creating 2 000 more temporary jobs than existed before it was around.

Similarly, Design Indaba (2014) proved that it could carry the clout to live up to expectations, with 25 000 expo delegates, 367 exhibitors and a R326m economic boost.

The Cape Town Cycle Tour this year attracted 4 000 international entries, and generated R500m towards the economy, according to tour organisers. A modest look at tourism spend says that an international visitor is enjoying the exchange rate: last year, the average international visitor spend, not including accommodation, came to R1 198 per day. They stayed for an average of three to four days, and some for much longer.

Research company Forward Keys has forecast a 14% increase year on year in arrivals to the city in October, when CTIFMF will take place (based on bookings), and many of those visitors will be here to enjoy what will be a remarkable event.

Earlier this year the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranked Cape Town as the number one city in Africa for business tourism, and the City now ranks in the top 40 destinations for business tourism in the world – improving 15 places in the global rankings from 54th place in 2015 to 39th place last year.

According to a Grant Thornton economic assessment done as part of the bid process, hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 would bring South Africa R27.3 billion in direct, indirect and induced economic impact. It would also sustain 38 600 annual job equivalents – some temporary and some permanent.

Business, sport, film: all have this in common: “what if” propositions that have led to action, action that has collectively contributed billions to our economy every year. This is a cash injection that benefits all of us as it allows for continued infrastructural growth.

The film industry is built on immense sums of money, investors believe in projects that take hard work to become reality, but investor confidence can produce fantastic dividends.

We’ve seen this in tourism: as the sector grows and events develop larger profiles, investor confidence leads to more hotel developments, bigger conferencing capabilities and, alongside those, job creation that offers our locals the opportunity to support families and grow in terms of skills development.

It’s a great experience to see a familiar landscape in a movie: household-name actors laying down a scene in Bo-Kaap or Langa. As locals, we feel pride at knowing our home is being showcased and, I’m certain, this kind of promotion attracts international visitors in much the same way that visiting the fountain that features in the opening credits of TV series Friends gets people motivated to book tickets to New York.

Tourism, like the film industry, is affected by seasonality, and events are central in providing year-round sustainability. We rely on fresh, innovative event concepts to ensure that visitors keep on coming.

The CTIFMF is at the heart of generating ongoing interest. The city’s capabilities when it comes to staging world-class events has grown hugely in recent years, with the Fifa World Cup 2010 being one of the main trampolines that bounced us on to the global stage. Culture, diversity, scenic venues and collaborative atmosphere will ensure that our reputation continues to grow.

Rafiq and team have a big challenge on their hands as their “what if” moment comes to life, but as a tourism body and, I’m certain, as a city, we’re behind them all the way.

* Enver Duminy is the chief executive of Cape Town Tourism.

This article was first published by IOL on 7 September 2017.