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Jörgen Eksell



The hotel check-in as a rite of incorporation: Enchantments of inclusion and exclusion


  • Jörgen Eksell

Summary, in English


The hotel check-in is usually treated as a facilitating service as it is often assumed only to facilitate the use of the core service i.e. the lodging. In addition the check-in is a highly standardized process, which is repeatedly performed every day. Being only one part of the front office’s duties executed at the reception desk, it is usually given scant attention from management. Likewise, the check- in has also been unfairly treated by the research society, as it has not been given any substantial treatment. The position held in this paper is that the check-in is a value creating process with many facets to be explored. Hence, the purpose of the paper is two-fold. Firstly, to explore how the check- in can be seen as a ritual of incorporation in commercial hospitality. Secondly, to show how the check-in is creating value during a hotel check-in.


The paper draws on recent development in service research, which focuses on value creation (i.e. Vargo and Lusch 2004, Grönroos 2000) as well as on a number of writers in symbolic interactionism (Collins 2004; Goffman 1955/1967). The ritual is used as a metaphor in order to contextualize and clarify the value creation processes at the check- in (i.e. Van Gennep 1908/1960; Goffman 1955/1967). The theoretical standpoint can therefore be labeled cross disciplinary.


The empirical material presented in this paper was collected in conjunction with fieldwork conducted on a middle class city hotel in southern Sweden during the spring of 2006. Participant observations as well as interviews with receptionists were performed during the fieldwork. The participant observations were performed two to three days a week over a course of an initial first three months. Following this, they were conducted one to two days a week during the following two months.

Discussion and conclusion

Commercial hospitality is usually only extended to checked-in guests, and therefore strangers/other present people are thus excluded from the scene. In consequence, the receptionists prevent people from exploring the value offering of hospitality by efficient boundary work in the lobby. For instance, the guest´s liquidity is controlled during the check-in, and those lacking in economic resources are asked to leave the hotel. All and all, this helps maintain the impression of an exclusive hospitality service, accessible only to paying guests.

The personal greeting at the reception desk and the giving of the hotel-key are presented as vital processes in the rite of incorporation. The personal greeting is important as it is the moment in which the guest and the host stand face-to-face for the first time. It is here that they encounter one another, size on another up, and enter a relationship of hospitality with all that it implies.

The hotel key is a powerful symbol of commercial hospitality. The delivery of the hotel-key to the guest is seen as the culmination of the ritual. Only when the guest has been presented with a key, can the stranger be called a hotel guest.

In conclusion, the check-in is a moment of truth. It is the first time when host and guest meet and consequently a first time for the hotel receptionist to make an impression on the guests. The check-in is fundamental to commercial hospitality as it transforms the stranger into a guest. The mechanisms of control to which the guest is submitted to during the check-in is part of the value creation process which aims at producing a hospitality service only given to paying guests; in this way the check-in works as a rite of incorporation. As a final point, this paper argues for the need to understand the check-in as significant an aspect of the core service provided in a context of commercial hospitality.


  • Institutionen för service management och tjänstevetenskap








[Host publication title missing]




Nordic Symposium of Tourism and Hospitality


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • value creation
  • symbolic interactionism
  • hospitality
  • ritual of incorporation
  • hotel