Most people associate the birth of electronic commerce distribution with the arrival of the internet. In fact, the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) were the predecessors, and electronic commerce in travel pre-dates the e-commerce explosion. Amadeus was founded in 1987 with the mission to connect providers' content with travel agencies and consumers in real time and has been since at the forefront of innovation for the travel distribution industry.
Over the decades, we have constantly adapted to market dynamics. Nowadays, we play a major role in both leisure and corporate travel distribution by providing an essential and efficient business structure for the distribution of travel providers (mainly airlines) through travel agencies worldwide.
International expansion has been key to our strategy, and one of the key pillars to becoming the leading global GDS. Since our platform became fully operational in 1992, we have been expanding our Distribution business area, building up our global customer base to over 91,000 travel agency locations worldwide, such that, by 2003, we had become the number one GDS provider worldwide. We also focused on opening up country operations: today, we have 73 local organisations, supported by four regional offices and covering 195 countries.
Providing best-in-class IT solutions for the travel industry has been at the core of Amadeus' business since its origin. Our competitors had a 20-year head start when we started working on developing our Global Distribution System, so we focused heavily on technology with the aim to deliver a best-in-class reservation system. Progressively and in line with industry evolution, we diversified our operations by focusing on information technologies to deliver services spanning beyond sales and reservation functionalities, centred on streamlining the operational and distribution requirements of our diverse customer base. Our Distribution activities include the provision of an advanced IT network as well as systems and solutions ensuring round-the-clock reliable and efficient transactions for the global travel industry.
In addition, the founders of Amadeus pioneered the development of a unique reservation platform that allowed for seamless reservation service across all sales channels. We have used this unique know-how to diversify into the airline IT market. This has become the cornerstone of our growth strategy and has been supported by our long-term continuous investment plan.
Indeed, after over 25 years of operations, we believe that constant adaptation and innovation remain essential, and we have turned innovation into our growth driver, placing ourselves at the forefront of technology development for the travel sector. Since 2004, the company has invested almost €2,000 million in R&D (€365 million in 2011).