The International Hot Tub Association is going international.

As part of an expansion effort, the organization will be launching a membership drive at the 2010 Piscine show held in Lyon, France. ITHA also is partnering with a French trade group.

“We were at the last Piscine and had major dialogue with folks in the European community,” said Mitch Brooks, executive director of the Port Charlotte, Fla.-based organization. That laid the groundwork for IHTA’s big push for membership overseas this year.

At present, the 2-year-old association has 40 members, mostly in the United States. The goal is to grow IHTA to 100 member firms.

Piscine is a logical kickoff point for the European membership drive because the show typically attracts 18,344 attendees from around the globe and 653 exhibitors, according to show organizers.

The 2010 event will be held Nov. 16-19, and organizers plan to give IHTA lots of exposure, including a free booth, distribution of IHTA literature to all exhibitors and attendees, and a full-page ad in the show booklet. Plus, the Americans are being given a half-hour forum every day to talk about IHTA and spa-specific topics, such as hot-water chemistry.

Besides working the French show floor, IHTA also is establishing ties with the Federation of Pool Professionals, which represents more than 750 French pool companies.

“Partnering with [European shows and organizations] is to our mutual benefit,” said Andy Tournas, IHTA board member and president of ThermoSpas Inc. in Wallingford, Conn. “IHTA can give them lots of information and guidance to aid the European spa industry as it grows.”

Noting that pool and spa shows are springing up everywhere, from Dubai to Morocco and Greece, Tournas said IHTA’s recruitment efforts at other events “probably will be determined by what happens at the Lyon show.”

This IHTA expansion comes at a critical time for the industry. Spa sales in Europe have experienced a sharp downturn, though not as pronounced as in the United States. Total European spa sales are estimated to have dipped from a high in 2008 of more than 50,000 units to around 30,000 in 2009, according to Stephen Holderness, director of international business for Aristech Acrylics, Florence, Ky.

The wellness and hydrotherapy trend is aiding overseas sales, he noted, with the best growth markets being in France, Germany and Italy.