Missouri State University is blazing a new trail as it launches the first bachelor’s degree in ‘geotourism’ in the nation this fall.

The new program will teach based on the definition of geotourism by the National Geographic Society’s Center for Sustainable Destinations: “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents.”

“But it’s also recognizing what is, in fact, really culture and what is really heritage. You know, a lot of these towns, I mean there’s kind of a thing I use when I’m teaching the tourism classes. You can offer me something, but you better be able to deliver the product,” said Linnea Iantria, one of the instructors in the new MSU program.

She says you also need to have a long-term plan for the ‘product.’

“You look at these destinations and you realize that if you’re not ecologically responsible that they will die out. Someone needs to address the issue of, how do you still have people visiting a place, visiting a destination, but not destroying it in the process?” Iantria said.

Iantria says this is an emerging industry, as many communities are looking at tourism as a way to generate new revenue, and people are staying closer to home on vacation to save money.

“Let’s just say you would have flown, for example, form St. Louis to Kansas City. Well maybe now you’re driving and suddenly all those towns off of Interstate 70 become more interesting and you’ll stop along the way, right? Maybe you’ll only go halfway instead and take your time and tour that area,” Iantria said.

The program begins this fall as part of the Department of Geography, Geology and Planning. Iantria says they’ve heard of a similar program that may have already launched at a University overseas, and she’s also heard of plans at other U.S. universities to create similar bachelors-level programs.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]