QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand — Barring a late change in plans, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will touch down in New Zealand for his first trip of 2021.

Queenstown, a city in South Island, New Zealand, is hosting the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern chose the ski town to highlight the best in Kiwi tourism to Australians.

The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble last month means Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, is the only international destination that Australians can visit with ease during the pandemic.

Ski fields, hotels, and hospitality businesses are licking their lips at the prospect of Aussie dollars returning after a lean 2020.

New Zealand was slow to commit to the trans-Tasman bubble – opening up six months after Australian states did so and 11 months after it first agreed to the travel arrangement.

Morrison lauded its opening ahead of his flight.

Families and loved ones embrace after landing on the first Air New Zealand flight to land in Wellington on the first day of the trans-Tasman bubble. (Ben McKay/AAP Image)

“Quarantine-free travel not only means the Prime Minister and I can hold our annual talks in person, but it also highlights that our travel bubble is seeing friends and family reunite across the ditch,” he said.

“New outbreaks across the world and in our region are a reminder the virus still rages outside our borders. That’s why it’s so important that we work closely with our partners such as New Zealand to not only respond to the pandemic at home but to support our friends and neighbors.”

Morrison’s visit was in doubt due to the Victorian outbreak.

There was speculation that the Liberal leader would call off the trip as it would look bad to travel internationally during a crisis at home.

“He did a runner to Hawaii during the bushfires (in December 2019) thinking it was under control, and it backfired on him,” Jennifer Curtin, a politics professor at the University of Auckland, said.

“If this trip also backfired on him, then it could be quite problematic for him in the upcoming election. A big flare-up and the politics of the vaccination rollout come to the fore again. He’s all about the optics; it’s the kind of guy he is,” Curtin said.

There’s plenty to gain for both leaders over the 24 hours that Morrison is in Queenstown. They’ll talk about dealing with China, the Pacific, and their pledge to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine to the region, deportations, and more.

There will be plenty of photo opportunities – from which they both benefit.

With an election in less than a year, Morrison will undoubtedly enjoy standing alongside Ardern – who has been consistently voted by Australians as their favorite politician since her election in 2017.

And Ms. Ardern can put her country in the spotlight, tempting Aussies into trans-Tasman travel.

(Edited by Amrita Das and Gaurab Dasgupta)

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