PROFILE: PATRICIA MAHER (interviewed in May 2020)

“A Cork woman, a Caribbean island and a sustainable tourism startup”

When Patricia Maher left Ireland and moved to Germany in the mid nineteen eighties,  the terms “climate change” and “sustainable tourism” had yet to be coined.

Her one objective had been to become a fluent German speaker and although she achieved her objective, she did not end up staying in Germany.

The place where she now calls home is almost eight thousand kilometres away on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Patricia reflects on her career to date.

She talks about the future of tourism and how the app which she and her business partner have created could contribute to the “sustainable tourism” model.

Germany and Berlitz  

From a close-knit family, Patricia is the second youngest of six children and is the only one who moved abroad and indeed the only one who left Cork.

She is a past pupil of St. Angela’s College, she holds a BA and a Higher Diploma in Education from University College Cork and an MBA from Manchester Business School.

Her first employer abroad was the Berlitz Language Group.

She was employed as an English teacher at their Frankfurt language centre.

Her first big opportunity came when her manager at the centre asked if she would be interested in attending a Berlitz management trainee programme (Berlitz uses these programmes to train participants how to run a Berlitz profit centre).

Patricia took the opportunity – she was the only non-German participant.

After finishing the programme, she was promoted to the position of Deputy Director of the Berlitz Language Centre in Stuttgart.

Here, she made Irish friends for life as two of the language trainers who were teaching there at the time were from Cork.

She went on to become Director of the Berlitz language centre in Karlsruhe, a position which she held for over three years.

Under her leadership, the centre became one of the top ten performing centres in terms of revenue and sales within the group.

A Crossroads  

By 1990, the Berlin Wall had come down and Berlitz was expanding their operations – Patricia was offered a promotion – a business development position in Eastern Europe.

The promotion was tempting but she hesitated.

She recalls that her heart wasn’t in it and that she wanted to position herself in a more global role.

Around this time, she went on holiday to Jamaica – it was her third time holidaying there since moving to Germany.

“When I landed in Jamaica, I felt like I was back in Ireland in the sunshine.”

She decided that the perfect scenario for her would be to find a suitable opportunity in Jamaica.

That opportunity came from a German woman called Anne Townsend at an informal job interview in Frankfurt.

Anne and her Jamaican husband, Gordon, owned a destination management company called Caribic Vacations.

“That was the crossroads in my life.  Instead of going East, I went West.  It was the best decision of my life.  I threw caution to the wind and I flew to Montego Bay Jamaica.”


For the next seven years, Patricia worked in the Jamaican tourism industry.

At the time, Caribic Vacations were the ground handlers for Continental European visitors to the island.

The company gave her great exposure and in 1996, a German group called LTU hired her as their destination manager.


“After seven years in tourism, I was getting itchy feet.  I was looking around for opportunities.  I read about Denis O’Brien’s purchase of the telecommunications licence in Jamaica.”

Patricia contacted the Minister for Telecommunications in Jamaica and she made contact with one of Denis O’Brien’s men on the ground (Frank O’Carroll).

These contacts resulted in a number of interviews and a job offer to work with the Digicel start-up based in Kingston, Jamaica.

“I took a leap of faith – I saw the opportunity for tremendous growth for myself.”

The next few years were very busy ones as Digicel set up their network all over the Caribbean.

Patricia says that she was very fortunate to work with Seamus Lynch (COO at the time), “a wonderful dynamic young Irish man who had worked with Denis O’Brien in Dublin”.

Thanks to Seamus, she learned the telecommunications business – from the building of the network, to its roll-out and the establishment of sales, marketing and the call centre.

“It was an amazing experience being involved with the roll-out in Jamaica – there’s nothing quite like being in a start-up.”

For the first time ever in her career, Patricia had the opportunity to work with Irish people.

Her job was to help them assimilate into the Caribbean culture.

She worked in Kingston initially and then in 2002, Digicel opened a regional office in Montego Bay with Patricia as Regional Manager.

At that point, while she was happy in Jamaica, Digicel asked her if she would be interested in relocating to one of the other Caribbean islands.

She made her decision during her Christmas holidays in Ireland (the first time that she had been back to Ireland for Christmas time since moving to Jamaica).

She recalls that her mum asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she replied “a set of luggage”.


Patricia was offered a position on the island of Grenada, a small Caribbean nation which is located in the Eastern Caribbean and which consists of three islands – Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

She recalls that she arrived in Grenada on Easter Monday 2003 – “it was still the dry season when I arrived, I thought to myself that this place is not really what I was expecting but in a matter of weeks, the whole picture had changed and transformed into the most gorgeous lush green tropical paradise you can imagine – I was sold on Grenada”.

Six months into her appointment as Country Manager for Grenada, she was also asked to manage St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a year – going back and forth every week.

In September 2004, Digicel appointed a local manager for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Patricia took a break and returned to Ireland where her youngest sister was expecting a baby.

This meant that she was in Ireland when Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada on September 7, 2004.

The small island nation hadn’t had a hurricane in over 50 years.

Grenada and the Cayman Islands were the worst hit.

On her way to the Erinville hospital to visit her sister who had given birth to a baby girl, Patricia received a call from a friend to let her know that her house was still standing but that a lot of damage had been caused on the island.

She rushed back to Grenada to assist her team to get the newly installed communications network back up and running.

The following three weeks were the toughest of her professional career.

Her team, with the support of her employer got the network back up and running and helped with the rebuilding effort in St. George’s.

During her fifteen years at Digicel, Patricia had the opportunity to travel and work all over the Caribbean (Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago).

Start-up: Fuhwe  

At that point of her career, Patricia took a break during which she went to the mobile world congress in Barcelona.

She also attended a start-up weekend in New Orleans, USA where she pitched an idea for a travel app.

She won the pitch and decided to launch and test the app in New Orleans.

During that time, she travelled back and forth between New Orleans and Grenada as she and her business partner decided to do a test of the travel app in New Orleans.

The app called connects local hosts with visitors to a destination.

The Grenada Tourism Authority  

Patricia was still working on developing the app when friends of hers in Grenada reached out to her about an opportunity with the Grenada Tourism Authority that they thought would be a perfect role for her.

She applied for the job and was appointed as CEO in mid-December 2016.

She went on to hold that position for two contract terms until December 2020.

Sustainable Tourism  

The idea behind the Fuhwe app was inspired by the wonderful people of the Caribbean and its name was coined from a local saying meaning “for us”.

Having lived and worked all over the Caribbean, Patricia wanted to share these amazing authentic experiences with visitors.

“The trend in tourism is sustainable tourism and what better way to give back to the community than to meet and connect with locals hosting experiences on Fuhwe.”

Patricia feels that now more than ever in these Covid times, people are looking for a personal connection so it fulfils this basic human need.

“Ideally the app can be scaled to any worldwide destination as it has a global appeal.”

Patricia is passionate about the Caribbean, a region she has called home for the past twenty-eight years.

“Grenada is a real Caribbean destination.  We don’t just cater to the tourist – there’s a regular life here.  There’s a beautiful blend of local and visitor going on.”

She believes in the philosophy that life needs the Caribbean and the Caribbean needs life and the region can only benefit from a sustainable tourism approach.