The industry was alive with newfound optimism at this year’s International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo as more than 9,000 pool and spa professionals walked through the doors of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas Oct. 30 to Nov. 4.

“Our numbers were up across the board this year, from square footage to exhibiting companies to attendees,” said Lindsay Roberts, IPSPE director at Hanley Wood Exhibitions, which is owned by the parent company of Pool & Spa News. “All around, it was an awesome event. We couldn’t have been happier.”

Though exact attendance figures weren’t available at press time, the number is up significantly from last year’s total of 9,255, according to show organizers.

As in previous years, education proved to be a major draw. At classes such as the Genesis 3 Design Schools and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ Institutes for builders and service technicians, industry veterans passed on their knowledge to sold-out audiences.

“All our educational events were really successful this year,” Roberts said. “And we saw a lot of new faces, which was really exciting. Even newcomers to the industry are recognizing how education can set them apart from their competitors.”

The Expo’s networking opportunities also garnered rave reviews as attendees took advantage of the chance to dialogue with their peers, as well as with the 461 companies whose booths and exhibits filled the show floor’s 120,000 square feet.

“I’ve been making so many connections at this convention,” said Tom Krause, director of sales and marketing at Arizona Mirage Pool Service, Surprise, Ariz. “Being able to ask questions of manufacturers in person makes me more of an expert for my clients.”

Manufacturers were similarly impressed with the visitors who stopped by their exhibits to gather information and preview 2012’s cutting-edge pool products. “We had people in our booth nonstop from the moment we opened until we closed,” said Kimberly Roos, vice president of sales and marketing at Fluidra USA Inc., located in Jacksonville, Fla. “The quality and caliber of people were first rate.”

The Expo’s opening ceremony also aimed to impress: Billy Derian, host of the TV show “Extra Yardage” on the DIY Network, cut the ribbon as a TV crew filmed the crowd. That team went on to spend 2½ days chatting with exhibitors and attendees on the show floor, gathering material for a full-hour segment scheduled to air in spring 2012.

But it was far from all work and no play in Vegas.

At the Saber Grills, LLC, barbecue party, pool professionals of all stripes mingled and munched on fresh-grilled treats, then danced beneath the stars.

With so much to do, it’s no wonder that attendees are already talking about next year’s Expo, scheduled for Nov. 6-8, 2012 in New Orleans.

“Everyone wanted to talk about next year,” Roberts said. “I think we can look forward to some great numbers for that event, including some new faces from the Southeast.”