My favorite airport in the world is in Amsterdam. And my least favorite airport is LAX. I do anything to avoid that horrible experience. What Amsterdam gets and Los Angeles doesn’t understand: an airport experience represents a brand experience.

Imagine traveling to Los Angeles for the first time in your life: Palm Trees, Sun, Beverly Hills, Hollywood. The dream of a lifetime. And then you land at LAX. You leave the plane exhausted, walking down dark hallways, paint peeling off, the smell of a non-ventilated locker room in your nose. Immigration makes you wait in endless lines for hours, the lights reminding you of an interrogation room. Everything screams: “You’re not welcome.” Finger prints, thumb prints, a photo: Is this Rikers Island or LAX? By the time they graciously let you in, your luggage has been offloaded from the conveyor belt. If you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, your luggage is gone. Now it’s time to stand in another line: Customs. Finally, you’re done. A refreshment would be nice, right? No luck. The arrival hall is bleak, nothing for you to do. Except leaving. Time to stand in another line: for a cab, the rental shuttle or the bus. When your Los Angeles adventure begins, you already have an impression of this city: It smells, they don’t care about people and their needs.

Compare that to Amsterdam: immigration takes a few minutes, the building are well-lit, everything screams: “Welcome.” Customs is a breeze. I’m greeted by open shops, restaurants, ATM’s, rental car counters and easy access to cabs. My arrival experience turns into a real Amsterdam experience within minutes. Amsterdam airport enhances my travel experience. LAX diminishes it. Amsterdam airport accentuates the Dutch brand. It communicates modern values. It communicates to me an open society, a dynamic community that welcomes me immediately.

Like it or not: We’re all in the experience business. It used to be enough to have a decent product, a good price, an accessible place for me buy it, coupled with a good promotion. Let’s count the money. Not anymore. You need to create experiences. It can be a Redbox experience: Give me a movie for $1 now. It can be a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class experience: Treat me like a rockstar. But it has to be an experience.

People often confuse experiences with flashy things. That’s why so many companies continue to build these monuments to Flash as websites. Because they want me to experience the brand. More often than not, the best experience is getting a task done on my terms in the shortest time possible. The metrics “Time Spent” should be considered a warning sign, not a success metrics. Brands should rather focus on “Task achieved in”. Companies need to focus less on making things efficient for them, more on making all brand experiences more efficient for each of their customers.

Take a look at your store: What experience are people getting out of it?

Your website. Does it only serve your purpose (sell, upsell, cross-sell) or does it serve your customers?

Your marketing. Are you just talking about yourself or do you help people, add value, make their lives better?

Which brings me back to LAX.

Times are tough, no money, no budget. I’m not asking for a billion dollar renovation of LAX. I’m just asking for changing our attitude when designing these places. Paint is not that expensive, let’s make the hallways a little bit more brighter and colorful. Let’s have all school children in Los Angeles paint pictures about their community and hang those up in the Immigration area. Let’s have a close look at line management in Immigration and Customs. Let’s have volunteers help people with their paperwork before they meet the Immigration officer. Let’s create an experience of Los Angeles as a community, as a place where we welcome the world. Is that too much to ask?