When it comes to fun destinations, Orlando, Fla., is at the top of the list. After all, it boasts SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World and the nearby Kennedy Space Center, to name just a few major attractions. But for pool and spa professionals, especially in the southeastern United States, it’s also the site for an annual trek — the Orlando Pool & Spa Show.

Once again industry members will converge on the Orange County Convention Center’s West Hall E on Feb. 15-16. They can expect to find plenty of opportunities to network, view new products, hone their trade skills — and have some fun.

“The Florida show has proven itself as one of the stronger shows,” says Wendy Parker Barsell, executive director of the Florida Swimming Pool Association, which hosts the event. “We’re always adding things, trying to keep it interesting and fresh.”

This year, for example, the FSPA Board decided to make the seminars free of charge for all the organization’s members and as many of their employees as they want to bring. “Typically, you could go to the show floor for free, but now there’s no cost for members to go to classes, too,” Parker Barsell says. She adds that it could mean significant savings for a company that sends its principals and several employees — and no doubt many will want to do just that because Florida pool professionals often take courses for credit to renew their contractor licenses.

That also means there could be a spike in attendance for 2013. That’s good news for organizers, who have been trying to expand the event in recent years. Their efforts have included changing the name from the Florida show to the Orlando show (to indicate that it’s not just for those in the Sunshine State), and they also began reaching out to industry professionals in nearby regions and in northern states. After a big marketing push, attendance was up last year, with more than 4,030 industry members participating in the show. Parker Barsell is hoping for a similar increase of 5 to 7 percent for 2013.

Of course, those attendees will be coming for more than education. As mentioned earlier, the show schedule has something for everyone. For information on city attractions, go to www.visitorlando.com.

Hit the Books

It’s no secret that there’s a strong emphasis on education at the Orlando Pool & Spa Show. The reason, of course, is the need for many industry members to take continuing education courses to renew their Florida contractor licenses.

The Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board requires license holders to take 14 hours of state-approved courses every two years, so FSPA makes sure the majority of its 60+ seminars are CILB-approved.

That said, the educational program is designed to meet the needs of all industry members — builders, retailers and service technicians, as well as aquatics professionals. Topic categories run the gamut, from technical to business, legislative/regulatory, certification and brand/product-specific.

It’s hard to predict which seminars will be standouts this year, notes Parker Barsell, because organizers expect a lot of companies to bring employees. With more crew members in the classrooms, the numbers may shift. If, say, a lot of industry newcomers attended, perhaps more basic courses would see an increase in students. Still, she can say there were a lot of early sign-ups for business seminars and those emphasizing energy efficiency.

Among the business courses this year are “Financial Management for Pool Contractors During Tough Times,” “Cost-Cutting Techniques to Increase Profits” and “Secrets to Earning More by Selling Less.” Meanwhile, energy efficiency is foremost in classes such as “Phosphate and Enzyme Control for Increased Efficiency” and “FBC Advanced Module: Energy Efficiency Regulations for Pools/Spas.”

Classes of a legislative/regulatory nature include “DBPR-CILB Laws and Rules” and “2010 ADA Regulations for Swimming Facilities: An Update,” to name a few.

Approximately 30 new seminars show up in the education program this year. Parker Barsell says they were chosen “the same as with anything — people suggest things they want in the future, and that feedback helps us decide.” So look for new sessions such as “The Ins and Outs of Robotic Cleaners,” “Building High-Performance Teams,” “Exposing Myths About Pool/Spa Chemistry,” “Reducing the Cost of Workers’ Compensation” and “Selling Services the Fearless Way.”

As always, there will be manufacturer-led, hands-on training sessions in the exhibit hall. They do not offer CE credits, but meet a real need for specific product information, says Bernice Ryder-Smit, FSPA technical training coordinator. The fee is $5 per session.

For those seeking special certification courses, which include fees, there are the National Plasterers Council’s “Swimming Pool and Spa Start-Up Course” and “Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO).”

Pre-registration is strongly advised. For more on courses, CILB requirements and fees, or to register, visit www.orlandopoolshow.com.

Fun For All

Of course, you’ll spend much of your time at the Orlando show’s exhibits and seminars, but be sure to make room in your schedule for some extracurricular fun, too. Check out these fab four events.

> Wet ’n Wild Tour. In this behind-the-scenes look at a leading waterpark, you’ll discover how the wave pool works, learn about the plumbing and filtration systems needed to run commercial pools and rides that use 1.5 million gallons of water, and the challenges of water chemistry on such a grand scale. The tour is Thursday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m. Cost is $20 each, and the bus leaves from the convention center’s West Hall E.  

> Sustainability Tour. This is a first — a tour of the Orange County Convention Center to see how its solar-heating system works. The facility boasts the second largest solar array in the Southeast, and on Thursday, Feb. 14, 1:30 p.m., you can tour the roof and the inverter room, as well as learn about some experimental solar installations. You’ll also see other ways the center is lessening its environmental impact. Who knows? Perhaps you may glean some ideas you can adapt for your own business. Cost is $20 each, and the bus leaves from the convention center’s West Hall E.

> Welcome Reception and Design Awards. A great way to officially kick off the show, it is set for Thursday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m., at the Rosen Plaza Hotel. Plan on free admission, light hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and lots of catching up with industry colleagues. Then the event segues into the design awards, and this year 21 companies will be honored in categories such as pool/spa combos, vanishing edges, residential waterfeatures, semicommercial pools and the like. Individual awards also will be bestowed.

> Industry Party. Howl At the Moon is such a popular nightclub that 900 folks showed up for the Industry Party last year. So guess where this year’s soiree will be held. “Everyone loves it,” says FSPA’s Parker Barsell. “It’s fun, casual and close to the convention center — you can walk there.” Mark your calendar for Friday, Feb. 15, 6:30-10:30 p.m. Admission is $25 each.