Around this time, our hotel friends start putting together their marketing plans for the upcoming year; budgets are assigned, revenue goals are set and partnerships come under review. To help spur on productive discussions and to make our clients’ jobs a little easier, we’ve put together a list of 13 important web trends for the hospitality industry in 2013.

The list is by no means exhaustive, so if you notice any glaring omissions, you’re welcome to add your thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Direct bookings are king

In 2010, American hotels spent an estimated $2.7 billion on OTA commissions (source). Now, as commission rates continue to rise and rate parity restrictions tighten, hotel owners are looking at any and all ways to increase direct bookings through their websites. To achieve this goal, the site must find compelling ways of conveying the advantages of being the hotel’s customer, rather than the OTA’s. Earlier this year, Stephen explained that hotel websites are still the primary research method for travellers, and in 2013, finding ways of encouraging direct bookings will be one of the most important parts of a marketing director’s job (we can help).

2. Social ? Mobile

The relationship between social and mobile is symbiotic and will undoubtedly continue to blend. Already, the two are virtually inseparable. 5 years ago, “social” was sitting in your dorm room uploading all the pictures you’d taken in the previous 3 months into an album titled “Spring 2007”. Now, we check-in and tag our friends while uploading singular pictures. Social happens in real time and that means mobile. Of course, the distinction I’m referring to here is Facebook vs. Instagram. Facebook bought Instagram earlier this year because IG had mastered the constraints of the mobile experience in a way that FB, with its roots desktop, could not. This presented a fundamental threat to FB’s model. Smart hotel marketers will keep their eye out for authentic ways to make use of emerging social/mobile applications in 2013.

3. SEO done changed

It can be hard to keep up with the names of Google’s updates, let alone their overall effect on the algorithm. As the algorithm improves, it becomes more human, and therefore, harder to fool with the age-old link-baiting and keyword tricks. We caution our clients against any quick fixes to SEO goals, and encourage companies to produce high-quality content at regular intervals and engage potential customers via social media.

4. Video works

We’ve been proponents of video for a long time. It’s the most effective way to make an impact on web visitors, and with mobile bandwidth ever-improving, the opportunities to use videos are endless. Contrary to what your boss might think, your video doesn’t have to “go viral”. More importantly, it doesn’t have to be a literal walk-through of your lobby and rooms. Please, don’t do that.

As an example of what can be done, check out Lucas Guadagnino’s short film, “HERE”. The project was commissioned by Starwood’s Luxury Collection and features Agyness Deyn visiting LC properties all over the world.

One last thing, and you may know this already, but video also helps improve organic SEO efforts (more about that here).

5. Stock photography is tacky

Stock photos should be a last resort. There are plenty of talented photographers in your city that can help accurately portray your property online. We recommend finding a photographer that specializes in architectural photography, especially if your hotel has unique design elements. Using models can offer a dynamic layer, which makes for more compelling imagery. However, models do add an extra layer of cost and complexity to the project.

6. Website usability is an integral part of the guest experience

Today, the guest experience starts with their first visit to the website. If they’re frustrated by the flow of navigation or access to information, they probably won’t come back to your site, which means they probably won’t stay at your hotel. I wrote more about the importance of usability here.

7. Google: still running the world (…wide web)

Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Earth, Android, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Google Reviews, Google Chrome, Google Wallet, Google Travel, Google’s Local Business Listings, Google+, Google Buzz (OK, that one flopped). The point is, Google will maintain a substantial foothold in the hospitality and travel industries and it’s imperative that you actively manage your hotel’s profile across these platforms. Resistance is futile.

8. Live or die by the review

Review sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp now make up a substantial part your hotel’s reputation (understatement of the year). The next time someone tells you they enjoyed their stay, ask if they’ll write a positive review on TripAdvisor. Chances are, they would be happy to oblige.

9. Pander to the locals

The most successful hotels in the world are those that find their balance as a meeting place for locals and a home for out-of-town visitors. Plus, in the current economic climate, the stay-cation is becoming increasingly popular. Our friends at BackyardBC provide an easy way to attract more local visitors by offering discounts, exclusive to residents to a state or province. Locals are also some of your strongest brand ambassadors. After all, if someone is visiting a new city, they will often ask their friend from that city where to stay – so you best treat them right.

10. Augmented reality on mobile devices

More and more, the website is not just part of the selection process, it’s part of the hotel experience by acting as a virtual concierge. In 2013, augmented reality on mobile devices featuring interactive hotel tours, automatic check-ins, and neighbourhood maps will play a growing role the hotel experience. Read the basics of AR here.

11. Be LGBT Friendly

If your hotel is a romantic destination, consider using language and photography that challenges the traditional heterosexual relationship, typically depicted in marketing collateral. At very least, register on sites like TAG and IGLTA.

12. Responsive, responsive, responsive

There is still a fair amount of debate around whether responsive design is truly the best way forward. On one hand, it’s more expensive upfront to build a responsive site. On the other, it’s less expensive to maintain as new devices are introduced. For example, now weeks away from an “iPad Mini”, those that opted for responsive design will have a much easier time transitioning to the 7-inch screen. No matter which camp you’re in, 2013 is sure to hold some exciting developments in the way the web is accessed.

You may be asking: what the heck is responsive web design?

13. GIFs: so hot right now

GIFs might be the best example of the power of simplicity on the web. This brief PBS documentary explains the curious history of these magical moving images.

Wait for it…