UK industry leaders have hit out at British and EU officials’ failure to clarify post-Brexit travel issues, calling it a “disgrace”.

Deirdre Wells, chair of the Tourism Alliance, told an Abta briefing on Brexit and the Future of UK Travel in London: “It’s disgraceful that a few weeks from March 29 we still don’t have answers to all the questions customers are asking.”

She said: “People are making decisions [about travel]. If we get this wrong, it will be really damaging.”

Paul Carter, head of Hotelplan UK, warned: “Our operating model – the seasonal workers’ model – is under threat until a new system is in place.” He complained of a “vacuum of information” and said: “It shouldn’t be up to us to have to deal with that.”

Carter told the briefing in London: “Things could go down to the wire. I would be in favour of a delay.”

Abta head of public affairs Luke Petherbridge said: “An extension is increasingly likely.” But Wells warned: “If it’s only an extension without clarification it just means more uncertainty. We need clarity first.”

Carter noted: “The date is important from a tour operator perspective – June 30 would be in mid-season. September 30 would be the start of the ski season. October 30 would be better.”

Petherbridge said: “We’ve made progress on our key priorities. We have arrangements in place, both the UK and EU, to ensure people can continue to travel, and we have visa-free travel.

“Areas we’ve not had confirmed yet include [recognition of] European Health Insurance (Ehic) cards. [But] many [EU member states] have said privately the arrangements will be maintained.”

Brittany Ferries’ chief executive Christophe Mathieu said: “The government is extremely concerned about Dover and Folkestone.”

But he added: “I’m worried about checks not of passengers but of freight. The UK is not in Schengen [so passenger checks won’t change]. The volumes in Dover are so massive, we could almost benefit [at Portsmouth], but I would much rather a deal.”

Wells, chief executive of VisitKent, agreed: “There is real concern about how we’ll cope – 90% of UK freight, 22 million passengers a year and 12,000 lorries a day go through Kent. If there are 90-second checks on vehicles it will result very quickly in 17-mile tailbacks.

“In case of no deal it’s really a case of communications and logistics. But the biggest part of resilience is to be as welcoming and disruption-free as possible.”

Yet Wells said: “Two things give me encouragement. First, the government needs tourism more than ever. The industry has been through a hell of a lot and always finds a way to keep people moving. Second, it won’t do us any harm to try harder [and] it’s grist to the mill to say we need government support.”

Petherbridge insisted: “Any deal would be better than no deal.” But he warned a deal “would be the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end.

“Most of our priorities will only be agreed when we agree on the exit – so better a friendly exit than having to pick up the pieces after no deal.”