It’s the free exchange of ideas, building techniques and best practices that make the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo such a global draw. And this year’s show, which ran Nov. 5-7 in Orlando, Fla., was no exception.

The pool and spa industry’s largest convention made a triumphant return to the Sunshine State, which hasn’t hosted the PSP Expo since 2007. It will take some time to crunch the numbers, but organizers estimate that the event saw about 10,000 attendees.

552 exhibitors displayed their wares in 148,600-square-feet representing 1,486 booths at the Orange County Convention Center. Companies hailed from all over the world, including Australia, Israel, China, Spain and Canada, among other nations.

Many attendees were from far-flung locales, as well.

Gustavo Ordóñez and Miriam Letelier said lessons learned in Orlando would be implemented back home in Honduras. The managers of Jardines y Piscinas (Gardens and Pools) in the nation’s capital Tegucigalpa explained that there’s little in the way of building codes or regulations in Central America.

“We do have contracts, but most everything gets resolved verbally,” Ordóñez said. “Hardly anything goes to court.”

With little oversight, shoddy construction practices are giving the industry there a bit of a black-eye. That’s why the two are spearheading efforts to bring more integrity to their trade by incorporating ANSI/APSP standards.

“It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there,” said Letelier, an instructor of the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s Certified Pool/Spa Operator program.

Builders from the Bahamas also benefitted from the PSP Expo’s educational offerings. The island nation’s commercial pool market is positively booming, said Garth McIntosh, manager of Blue Water Pools of Freeport. That’s partly why he brought four of his employees to get up to speed on the latest industry advancements. Courses in water quality were especially helpful.

“We learned a lot about waterborne diseases,” he said. “It’s nothing to take lightly.”

What was new?

This year saw an expanded presence of outdoor living products, including pergolas, furniture, grills, tile and stone products and exterior design accessories. This also was the year of higher learning. The addition of the Commercial Education Pavilion and the Splash Talk Networking Lounges were successful inaugural efforts, said Show Director Tracy Garcia.

Newcomers Houzz and Nissan each had a large presence at the PSP Expo as well.

Houzz, the hugely popular home improvement website, offered visitors a hip place to kick back with a cup of joe and browse the Web with some free Wi-Fi. But this was more than just a rest stop for the booth-bound. Guests were invited to brush up their social media skills in a Genius Bar-like workshop with Houzz experts providing tutorials on such things as creating a profile and designing a website (a free one, mind you).

Houzz did some market research and found that landscaping was the third most popular project homeowners planned to tackle within the next two years (the first and second being kitchen and bathroom renovations).

“This industry, in general, isn’t very [tech-savvy], so we enjoy helping them out,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing.

Contractors also were lining up to get behind the wheels of Nissan’s new NV Cargo lineup. For those considering ditching their pickup in favor of a compact or full-size cargo van, the Ride and Drive Event was a good opportunity to see how these haulers handled on the open road.

Chuck Baldwin took the standard roof, three-quarter ton NV2500 with a 5.7 liter V-8 for a spin around the convention center, which included a pedal/metal stretch along State Road 528 West.

“I was impressed,” said the president of Blue Springs, Mo.-based Swim Things. “They drove very nice; very comfortable.”

(This reporter was granted a test drive and can confirm that it was very nice, indeed.)

Hot tub in the fast lane

There was another vehicle getting gobs of attention, but you couldn’t take this one for a test drive, unless you brought a bathing suit, that is.

Another showstopper at the 2014 PSP Expo was the Carpool Coupe DeVille, a hot rod/hot tub combo created with a hollowed-out Cadillac and a hot tub — both fully functional.

The mash-up is the brainchild of Duncan Forster and Phil Weicker. The two were engineering students in 1996 when someone dumped an old Chevy Malibu in their driveway. The friends decided (over a keg of beer, of course) to convert the abandoned vehicle into a drivable spa. The experiment failed.

Years later, the two reconnected and decided to take up the project again, this time with a 1969 Cadillac Coupe de Ville that they bought on eBay for $800.

A Kickstarter campaign for the project caught the attention of Marquis. The hot tub manufacturer offered to be the duo’s “official hydrodynamic performance consultant,” offering expertise and equipment.

The Carpool DeVille holds about 400 gallons. The engine, transmission and brakes are operated by marine throttles. The engine heats the water to 102 degrees within 45 minutes. With $10,000 from online donations and Marquis’ contributions, Forster and Weicker planned to enter their au-tub-mobile into the Bonneville Salt Flats to set the land speed record for “world’s fastest hot tub.” However, Mother Nature intervened and the Speed Week trials were a washout. Because it’s not quite official, they may have to settle for “most likely the world’s fastest hot tub.”

Though the Carpool may be impractical to drive, it does drive home a simple point.

“This industry has forgotten about fun,” said Jim Johnston, Marquis’ vice president of marketing. “I wanted something that would draw attention to fun again.”

If the industry has, in fact, forgotten how to have fun, then the PSP Expo served as a friendly reminder. Between the Barbecue Cook-Off, the vibrant welcome party at B.B. King’s Blues Club and APSP’s rum-tasting event for young professionals, there were ample opportunities to cut loose.