Michael Ward suggested the government's visa proposals are likely to have little impactReuters

The boss of one of the world's most well-known department stores has criticised the UK government's proposal to simplify visa applications for Chinese tourists.

Michael Ward, who is managing director of Harrods, called the measures "smoke and mirrors" and suggested they are likely to have little impact.

The executive also revealed that most of his store's Chinese shoppers were young consumers travelling independently of tour groups.

"The Chinese consumers are very young, aged 20 to 25," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Ward's comments follow the Chancellor George Osborne's trade mission to China earlier this year where he unveiled the plan.

Tourists travelling to Europe from China must apply for a separate UK visa alongside the Schengen visa system, which is cheaper and allows Chinese tourists to visit more than 25 other countries in the EU including France.

Osborne wants to allow tourists to secure a UK visa by only submitting the EU's Schengen visa. However, the scheme only applies to selected Chinese travel agents.

The move comes after some of the UK's biggest retailers, including John Lewis, as well as business organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce, the British Hospitality Association and the Institute of Director called for visa reforms in order to attract more business to Britain.

The UK China Visa Alliance, for example, estimate that each year the UK misses out on millions of Chinese tourists, costing the UK economy a staggering £1.2bn ($1.9bn, €1.4bn) in annual spend.