This post could have been titled “14 web trends for boutique, independent, luxury, exclusive, art hotels, resorts, escapes, spas, camps, cabins, excursions, and yurts.” But you have to draw the line somewhere. And despite (or perhaps because of) its ambiguity, “luxury” is still a relevant word.

If you can believe it (you probably can) travellers are taking more time to make up their minds. They are conducting more research than ever and, as our clients tell us, they are directly and brazenly asking for more competitive rates. In short, luxury travellers know what they want, and they use the web to find it.

Here are 14 insights that will help hoteliers plan their digital marketing strategies for the coming year:

1. Storytelling for luxury brands (tell a good one)

It’s a shame that “Storytelling” has become a marketing buzzword. Not much of a surprise there, most good concepts do. Though, at its core, storytelling remains hugely relevant to luxury brands. Stories are the primary method people have to connect with each other, share information, and reinforce our collective notion of what it means to be human. For centuries, luxury brands have found ways to separate their message from the constant flow of information.

As has always been the case, the story is what allows people to justify paying a premium. In luxury hospitality, telling a story that differentiates you from your competition helps guests deeply process the experiential value proposition (something more than just a really nice bed in a really nice room). That’s the key, it has to be different and it has to give the experience meaning. More about that here.

2. Design responsively (and do it well)

When we first starting telling clients about responsive design, they were rightfully confused. How could a website look different on different screen sizes? Initially, many ignored it, hoping it would go just away. Today, a large share of hotels have embraced the responsive web, which is great. But we’ve collectively learned that simply because a website is “responsive” does not mean it’s a proper representation of your brand. A responsive design can still be a bad design. It’s a technique that’s constantly evolving, but the fundamentals of aesthetics and context still apply.

3. Booking-engines are going to change

Choose your booking engine carefully. Make sure your CRS allows for detailed goal-tracking and analytics of the entire booking process. Find a booking engine that integrates with Google Analytics. Seeing the need for better customization, tracking, and responsive integration we are in the midst of building a custom, responsive booking interface that integrates directly with the most common booking engine API’s.

4. Re. Retargeting

Indeed, retargeting has been around for a while now. But it has picked up a lot of steam lately. In essence, we’re getting better at following people around the web. Having already established the fact that travellers spend too much time researching their travel plans online, retargeting is, therefore, a fine way to remind them why they really should stay at your hotel. Just remember to keep it classy.

5. Traffic segmentation

This requires a higher degree of technical proficiency and resources on the client-side, but it is still possible and profitable for independent hotels to engage in traffic segmentation programs that focus on their most profitable demographics. I recently connected with Rajesh at IntentEra. He is doing some cool work in this space.

6. The shift from SEO to SEM

Thankfully, Search Engine Optimization as it was once known is (almost) a thing of the past. Paid advertising in various forms continues to outpace traditional organic SEO strategies. Content marketing will replace optimization strictly based on titles, keywords, and inbound links. Google reviews will continue to factor strongly in their listings. It’s happening and if you’re marketing a hotel, this directly affects you. Here’s a good article.

7. You’re going to need a content strategy

This could be combined with #6. Basically, if your content is engaging, relevant, useful and up-to-date, you will win.

8. Make films, not videos

There is massive potential for hotels to make interesting films that live on the web and don’t feel like bad commercials. As an industry, we’ve only scratched the surface. As a company, Wallop is pushing the limits of the medium.

9. Blend lifestyle photography and architectural photography

Spend the money on photography, and it will pay off. We can help you find photographers on every continent that are worth hiring. Photographs are the digital experience of your hotel and no amount of design work can overcome a lack of strong, consistent photography. We’ve found they are especially powerful when the architectural shots blend, stylistically, with the lifestyle shots.

10. Deeper integration of social media

People have finally calmed down about social media. We all know it’s important, but we figured out that most of us don’t have the time. That’s OK. Tools like HootSuite can help alleviate some of the burden. Don’t think of it as a “social media strategy”, think of it as a publishing strategy that get’s transmitted via different lines of communication. Then, find ways to integrate those channels into your site. Also, if you use the channels to listen can pick up some great qualitative data about their customer-base.

11. Don’t discount real-time discounting

HotelTonight continues to make waves in the hotel world. And rightly so. It seamlessly blends the constraints of mobile, elegant design, and simplicity to solve real human needs. Look for ways to discount last-minute inventory that is not destructive to the brand. 65% of same-day bookings happened on mobile.

12. Multi-generational travel

I’m preaching to the choir here, but families are looking for ways to spend time together. Solve that problem and sell the dream.

13. Inter-disciplinary creativity

Look at what the best restaurants are doing online. Watch what the web is doing to music. Look to independent fashion brands, or the way Airbnb is rattling the hospitality industry. By looking to other industries and brands that share common constraints, we can push the limits in our own industry.

14. Conditional email marketing

So many hotels still take a spray and pray approach to email: send it to everyone, hope it sticks. 2014 will see greater use of automation and segmentation in email strategy. Speaking of email, people are reading it on their phone so make sure your email designs are responsive.

Did I miss something? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. Or reach out on Twitter @rdclarke.