With China on the rise and Europe on the decline, Australian tourism operators are being told they need to gear up for big growth in Chinese tourism.

Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson says in the 12 months to May, the number of Chinese visitors to Australia was up 17 per cent on the year before, while visitors from Europe were down almost three per cent.

Speaking at the National Tourism and Events Excellence Conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, Mr Ferguson said the "unsurprising" fall in European visitors was led by falls in German and UK markets and due mainly to Europe's economic problems.

By contrast, all of the key Asian markets were up, led by China, which had 577,000 visitors to Australia in the year to May, India, up 4.6 per cent, Indonesia, up 7.2 per cent and Japan, up 7.1 per cent.

"What these figures tell us is that Australia's tourism operators will need to cater to growing visitor numbers from China and Asia more generally in coming years," Mr Ferguson said.

He predicted things will be tough in Europe for at least a decade and says 100 million Chinese are expected to be travelling by 2020 and Australia has to be "in the game".

United Nations World Tourism Organisation secretary general Taleb Rifai also says Australians must accept they will see less and less Europeans coming to our shores.

Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy says his organisation spends about 52 per cent of its marketing budget on Asia and 48 per cent on western countries.

It's also developing an internet campaign that will be allowed through to Chinese web users.

He says Australia can do more to prepare for the growth in Chinese tourists by learning Chinese languages.