The International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo returned to the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans this month for the first time since 2003, and scored a hit with attendees and exhibitors alike.

“The show was very successful by all measurements,” said Lindsay Roberts, group director at Hanley Wood Exhibitions. “Our conference program was well received, with more people participating than in the 2011 program. The entire audience was engaged in the event.” Though exact numbers were not available at press time, Expo officials state that attendance was “strong.”

Show floor stats were up significantly over the 2011 event, Roberts added. This year, the Expo totaled 155,500 square feet with 549 exhibiting firms — up from 122,500 square feet and 462 companies in 2011. Exhibitors, pleased with the 2012 event, have already booked more than 31,000 square feet of space for the 2013 Expo in Las Vegas.

The New Orleans conference featured 74 general seminars on topics ranging from social media to avoiding litigation. Pool-building and design seminars were popular as well, particularly those at the Genesis 3 Pavilion, which had 33 exhibitors.

“The Genesis 3 offerings were impressive, to say the least,” said Drew Crowder, vice president of NVBlu Inc., based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “I can honestly say that it’s a real treat seeing a curriculum designed specifically for this industry that you couldn’t find in any university. Their classes were better attended than they’ve ever been. I would consider this their best show.”

For the business-oriented, Hanley Wood Market Intelligence offered a look at finding the top pool markets in the nation, and provided profiles of households likely to own or install pools. Sponsored by Reemay, the report enables pool and spa industry members to understand market conditions, have an informed view into demand and, most importantly, obtain targeted information on where to focus in their local market so they can plan effective business strategies.

“The presentation was great,” said Vance Gillette, vice president of business development at Zodiac Pool Systems in Vista, Calif. “I thought the statistics were very interesting and relevant. I’m really looking forward to getting the full report.”

But the main feature of the Expo, as always, was the exhibit floor. There, 549 companies, representing all facets of the industry, presented their latest products and offered an opportunity for networking.

“I think attendance is up,” said Tom Norman, Northeast sales manager for Gunite Supply & Equipment Co., who has represented the Monrovia, Calif., company on the show circuit for many years. Norman said he hoped to make some sales at the Expo, but that isn’t the only business that happens there. “The benefit of the show is that we see our current customers,” he explained.

This year’s Expo also had a decidedly international flavor, with attendees hailing from all over the world. Eddy Gonzalez of MEI Distributors of Miami, which exports pool equipment and supplies, brought one of his clients from Quito, Ecuador, to the event.

“It was the first time he had ever been to the show,” Gonzalez said. “He had a great time and gained a lot of valuable information. He was able to see in person all the products that were new to him from all the major manufacturers and ask them questions on the equipment and materials. We’re already talking about going to Las Vegas for next year’s show.”

But the Expo certainly wasn’t all nose-to-the-grindstone. The fun kicked off Tuesday evening with a welcome party at Mardi Gras World. Attendees had a choice of several New Orleans specialties, as well as their favorite beverages. In addition, several exhibitors scheduled receptions throughout the week for their customers and guests.

Of course, attendees explored everything New Orleans has to offer. From fine dining to jazz music to the unique attractions of Bourbon Street, the conventioneers took full advantage of the Crescent City.

Hanley Wood Inc., LLC, is the parent company of Hanley Wood Exhibitions and Pool & Spa News.