The International Hot Tub Association is no longer an independent group.

The organization, formed in 2008, now will operate under the umbrella of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.

“Both organizations realize there is strength in numbers and we are ready to speak with one voice on important issues that impact hot tubs,” said IHTA President Bob Lauter.

As part of the move, APSP’s Hot Tub Council will be dissolved, but some of its board members will be chosen to serve on the new IHTA board.

Both organizations’ boards of directors voted unanimously for the move, APSP officials said. The agreement states that IHTA’s financial resources will be combined with APSP’s “to gain operating efficiencies and membership.” Additionally, IHTA members will become members of APSP.

By joining forces, the groups hope to impart more influence on issues affecting the spa industry, such as how related language in the International Swimming Pool & Spa Code is incorporated nationwide.

“This agreement between APSP and IHTA means that the full force of legislative, regulatory and promotion activities are unified, targeted and efficient, giving the manufacturers, distributors and retailers and others involved in the hot tub business the opportunity to be more profitable while preserving the appeal of hot tubs as a viable and attractive product,” said Rich Gottwald, APSP’s new CEO.

IHTA was formed by Andy Tournas, former president of manufacturer Thermospas. He and other producers became concerned when hot tubs were included in some laws and codes pertaining to pools, though the two vessels are very different. Whereas pools are constructed in the field, portable spas are made in a controlled environment and tested by a third-party lab.

“We’re not opposed to regulations that make the product safer and more efficient,” Lauter said. “What we don’t want are bad laws that have unintended consequences, don’t make anyone safer and don’t make the product better.”

IHTA originated because hot tub professionals wanted a group dedicated to shaping legislation that could affect their products, which often were lumped in with pools. “I felt that ... APSP was more focused on the swimming pool industry and needed to put more focus on hot tubs,” said Tournas, who has since sold Thermospas and is preparing to launch a new hot tub-related company. “We felt there was a need for more protection of the hot tub industry.”

Times have changed. APSP recently underwent a restructuring that, among other things, pared down its board from 24 to nine members. This left IHTA more confident in APSP’s ability to respond to legislative and regulatory hurdles faced by the hot tub industry, Lauter said.

IHTA members are used to addressing issues and making decisions quickly, which was difficult with the Hot Tub Council, which only met twice a year, Lauter explained. Under the new arrangement, IHTA’s board and engineering committee will continue to meet monthly.

“The way that APSP was structured, the hot tub voice was kind of muted,” Lauter said. “[The restructuring] gave us the opportunity to have a robust voice.”

Now, even Tournas agreed that the new arrangement is appropriate for the times. “It’s a very good idea,” he said. “I think it will provide a lot of the unity within the industry that I think will benefit the industry. ... I think the new development will prove its worth, depending on the actions taken by the industry in forming a more consolidated effort to put hot tubs more in the forefront. The proof will be in the pudding.”

IHTA members will be notified in the next few months about how to renew their memberships.