WINNIPEG -- The tourism industry is bracing for a bleak holiday season as COVID-19 case numbers surge in the province.

The lead up to the holidays is usually a pretty busy time for Manitoba's travel sector. Snowbirds head south, people make holiday travel plans and families book winter vacations. 

But not in 2020. 

"This is typically our busiest time of year," said Barbara Crowe, president of Ixtapa Travel in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. "Sadly, we are nowhere near what we should be booking. 

"We're definitely 90 per cent down in sales, easily," she said. "Probably even higher than 90 per cent."

A downturn in travel and tourism isn't only affecting travel agents. 

Tourism is a major source of revenue for Manitoba. 

Tourists spent roughly $1.6 billion in the province last year, according to data provided by Travel Manitoba. 

Similar figures aren't expected this time around. 

"There have been a lot of hard-hit segments," said Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba. "The hotel industry particularly here in Winnipeg and major centres like Brandon and Portage." 

"There are no meeting conventions or business meetings to speak of, wedding cancellations. I mean, you start doing the math, and you can see it." 

A campaign for domestic travel by Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg in the summer and early fall helped boost tourism revenues, said Ferguson. 

The trend, however, didn't last long.

"When the fall came and the second wave hit us, we saw any of that activity go right back down to zero," said Dayna Spring, president of Economic Development Winnipeg, the parent organization of Tourism Winnipeg. 

Current travel and gathering restrictions are hitting the tourism sector even harder. 

"We're really trying to get through this as an industry, but this is the worst of times," said Spring. 

Economic supports for the tourism sector are coming, with the federal government promising new, low-interest loans for businesses part of sectors hit hard by the pandemic.

Ottawa is also working on aid for major airlines, as long as they refund cancelled flights. A move that could have unintended consequences for travel agents. 

"When airlines are refunding, it means they're coming back to get our commission," said Crowe. "Basically, we've worked for nothing for the last seven months, so that's very discouraging."