D.C. Plans Resort-Like Spa And Waterpark In A Bid To Further Boost Tourism

It’s always great to see when a project we worked on starts taking shape. Here’s to hoping a suitable site is found in DC for this exciting development by Therme!

Published by: DCist/Martin Austermuhle
Published date: May 2023

D.C. officials on Thursday said that almost 21 million domestic tourists visited D.C. in 2022, a 10% increase over the year prior. And they unveiled what they say will eventually be a new destination to attract even more visitors: a resort-like health and well-being resort that is being planned for somewhere in the city.

The tourism numbers and planned resort were announced at Franklin Square Park as part of Destination D.C.’s Travel Rally, where Mayor Muriel Bowser touted the importance of domestic and international visitors to the city’s economy — especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when visitation tanked. It has only started recovering over the last year.

“We know that tourism is fun, and we of course love having visitors. But it is also a critical part of the D.C. economy. It’s how people get jobs… and live the American dream. It’s how we invest in schools and public safety and transportation. And that’s why the recovery of tourism is so key to the District’s recovery,” she said. “When I see our restaurants and hotels teeming with people, we know our city is recovering.”

According to Destination D.C., domestic tourism is now at 91% of pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, the 20.7 million domestic visitors to the city spent $8.1 billion and helped generate approximately 84,000 local jobs. Tourism officials conceded that international tourism — which tends to be more lucrative for city coffers and businesses — is still lagging behind, but they hope to boost it with continued promotions in existing markets like Mexico, Brazil, and the United Kingdom and a bigger push in Asia.

To create another destination for locals and tourists, Bowser announced that D.C. would work with Therme, an Austria-based operator of well-being resorts, to identify a space somewhere in the city for what’s expected to be a facility ranging in size from 450,000 to 600,000 square feet. Described by Therme executive Omar Toro-Vaca as “an urban oasis housed in extraordinary architecture and beautiful surroundings,” the planned resort would include a spa, “next-generation waterpark,” and dining options.

There are Therme facilities in Romania and Germany; one has been proposed (not without controversy) in Toronto, Canada. Toro-Vaca said the one in D.C. would create more than 5,000 construction jobs and 700 permanent jobs, and add $1.1 billion in tax revenue to city coffers over 25 years. “Therme can serve as an engine for growth,” he said.

It still remains to be seen where in D.C. the new Therme resort would go, but given its proposed scale, there are only a few likely locations. The agreement with the city calls for a 12-month process to find the site, during which Therme cannot look for options in Maryland or Virginia. It is also still unclear when construction would begin, and whether the city would be providing any financial support in the process.

Earlier this year Bowser unveiled her “Comeback Plan” for D.C. to help it recover in the wake of the pandemic, which included plans to increase the number of people living in downtown D.C. and the number of jobs in high-demand industries. City officials say part of D.C.’s recovery will include increasing tourism; to that end, last year the D.C. Council approved a four-year increase in hotel taxes to help fund an aggressive marketing campaign domestically and internationally.

This story has been updated to clarify the Therme facility in Toronto, Canada has been proposed, but is not yet being built.