Perhaps we should begin with this statement about Ocracoke Island: "[T]his healthy spot is in autumn the resort of many of the inhabitants of the main[land]." This "Description of Occacock Inlet," accompanied Jonathan Price's map of 1795!
Next we should mention the old Ponzer Hotel which was built in 1885, and was located where the US Coast Guard Station/NCCAT campus is today. The hotel, which catered to wealthy North Carolinians who traveled to the island by steamship, burned down in 1900. The following photo, taken in 1898 speaks for itself.
Of course, modern-era tourism received a major boost in the late 1950s from the building of roads and the beginning of ferry service to Ocracoke Island. To be sure, various islanders (Stanley Wahab comes to mind) and others saw the continued economic potential of Ocracoke as a tourist destination. The rest, as they say, is history.
Another question was, "is there a higher percentage of rental income properties owned by non residents vs local resident population landlords?" I don't have any official figures but I am certain the answer is yes.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke and the War of 1812. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news102112.htm.