Despite mainland reports of large numbers of applications from residents of nine eastern cities newly entitled to individual travel to Hong Kong, the city's travel trade yesterday poured more cold water on the idea they would significantly boost tourist arrivals. Residents of the cities - in Jiangsu, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces - yesterday joined Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai residents in being eligible to visit Hong Kong without joining tour groups. Mainland television reports said 'large numbers of residents submitted applications [yesterday]', but gave no specifics. Local travel industry officials said it was unlikely Hong Kong would see a significant increase in the numbers over and above what they had already expected. Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, said the application process was 'relatively long', adding: ''Maybe tomorrow we will have a better idea of the number of applicants.' It takes about two weeks for an application to be processed. 'Certainly, the scheme has been important for the local tourism industry, but the new cities are farther away and will take time for us to develop as large tourism markets for Hong Kong,' said Charles Ng Kwong-wai, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operator Association. 'Maybe later in the year we will see real growth in travellers from those new cities.' Mr Ng said the immediate impact on the number of mainland visitors to the city 'would not be spectacular'. He estimated about 2.4 million mainland tourists would visit Hong Kong this month and in August. Without the individual travellers, the number would have been 1.4 million to 1.6 million, he said. There are 43 million residents in the nine cities, The three provinces contributed 9.4 per cent of last year's arrivals from the mainland.