Decades ago most visitors to the Island stayed in hotels, usually for several weeks and often as long as several months. At larger places like the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown and the Pequot Hotel in Oak Bluffs, it was common for people to rent a room all summer long.

“When I started in the business 40 years ago, a lot of elderly women came around the Fourth of July and stayed through Labor Day,” recalled Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel in Oak Bluffs. “Their husbands stayed a few days and then left, and these women would be here all summer, living in their rented hotel rooms.”

But over the decades the hotel industry has changed significantly.

Occupancy rates have declined as the home rental market surged. And over the years some inns and bed and breakfasts have been converted to private homes.

There has also been a trend back toward the time-share, a concept that previously never really took hold on the Vineyard except in a small way. But more hotels are trying it again, this time dressed up.

Five years ago, the Colonial Inn in Edgartown converted 15 hotel rooms into six luxury suites, sold to individual buyers who stayed in the rooms several weeks a year.

The Harbor View Hotel is now a “structured ownership hotel” in which most of the units are sold to buyers who commit to staying in the hotel for intermittent periods of time over the course of a year.

When the owners are not staying in their units, the rooms are available for nightly rentals.

The owner of the Surfside Hotel in Oak Bluffs, Jeff Young, plans to convert 32 hotel rooms into 19 residential condominiums. The plans are under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The upscale Inn at Blueberry Hill in Chilmark was recently sold to new owners who plan to convert it into a mostly private destination club with an emphasis on outdoor activities. But the inn has been affected by the economic downturn and now will remain closed this summer.

There are no hard statistics on the number of hotel rooms on the Island.

Unlike most other community chambers of commerce, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce does not track hotel occupancy. The most recent figures from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission are from 2006. Those numbers show there were a total of 1,239 overnight lodging rooms at the time — 593 in Edgartown, 368 in Oak Bluffs, 185 in Tisbury, 53 in Chilmark, 35 in West Tisbury and five in Aquinnah.

A 2003 transportation survey from the commission reported a total of 2,209 transient rooms on the Vineyard — 972 in Edgartown, 596 in Oak Bluffs, 430 in Tisbury, 95 in West Tisbury, 42 in Chilmark and 21 in Aquinnah.

If the figures are accurate, the number of transient lodging rooms declined by 44 per cent in three years. But Christine E. Flynn, economic development coordinator for the commission, said the 2003 survey was misleading because some of the rooms were likely counted twice.

But there is general consensus that the number of hotel rooms has declined.

Mr. Martell, a longtime hotelier, estimated the Island had lost roughly 30 per cent of its hotel rooms since the 1990s.

The downturn in the economy has also taken its toll, as people wait until the last minute before making vacation plans. This weekend, for example, only five of the 95 rooms at the Wesley Hotel were rented as of Wednesday, Mr. Martell said.

“Basically people don’t stay in hotels anymore, and when they do it’s only for a night or two. They aren’t staying for weeks or months. It used to be gangbusters for the Fourth of July, but now we struggle just to fill up that week. And Memorial Day is hit or miss,” he said, adding:

“Even if people are thinking about coming, they wait until the last minute to check what the weather will do.”

The Wesley Hotel, the second largest hotel on the Vineyard, is now up for sale. And Mr. Martell said he was nearly certain the new owners, whoever they will be, would convert the hotel to condominiums. “The new owners are going to want to make money . . . I don’t blame them if they switch to condos,” he said.

Donald Muckerheide, a Vineyard Haven resident now building a condominium complex in Oak Bluffs with restrictions on weekly rentals, said fewer hotel rooms hurt everyone, because it meant fewer people who shop and eat out at restaurants.

“If you are staying in a weekly rental, why would you go out to eat, when you can just cook a meal in the kitchen? And people aren’t going to go shopping as much if they have a house to stay in. They’re going to sit on the deck or have a cookout,” Mr. Muckerheide said.

He has pushed for years for some type of regulation or tax on weekly rentals. Hotels charge a 9.75 per cent tax for each room that is split between the state and the town, but weekly rentals pay no tax.

Mr. Muckerheide believes the prevalence of weekly rentals also drives up the overall cost of housing on the Vineyard.

“Homes on the Vineyard are valued not only on their worth as residential units, but for their potential as weekly rentals,” he said.

Renee Balter, former president of the Oak Bluffs Association, agreed that the number of hotel rooms had dropped. But she said it remains to be seen how this affects the Vineyard economy.

“I don’t think it means less people are coming, and it’s possible it brings in more people. The way I look at it, people are people and bedrooms are bedrooms. If a place like the Oak House closes down and we lose eight bedrooms, then the same people who were going to rent those rooms will find a home to rent — or two homes,” she said.

Ideally, she said, hotels and inns will remain in business and continue to generate the rooms tax that partially goes to the town. But she doesn’t fault owners from closing in the face of increased costs and declining occupancy.

“It’s a lot of work running these places, and it gets harder and harder each year. Everything from insurance to energy costs go up every year, and the [building and safety] codes get stiffer. If they can’t make it work, they have to close. That’s the reality. But if you look around, there is still no shortage of places to stay . . . if anything there are more options than ever,” Mrs. Balter said.